WASHINGTON — A public opinion war on Middle East politics is playing out this spring in new advertising campaigns on public buses and in newspapers.

It began when the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) launched bus ads during the April Cherry Blossom Festival condemning U.S. aid to Israel because of that country’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territories.

Then on Monday (May 19), Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative countered by deploying 15-foot-long ads on 20 buses in the Washington, D.C., system that equate opposition to Israel’s policies with Nazism. One ad shows the grand mufti of Jerusalem meeting Hitler during World War II.

“The bus system is considered public space, so speech has First Amendment protections,” said Caroline Laurin, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “We have no grounds to refuse ads due to their content.”

AMP board member Osama Abu Irshaid, who lives in northern Virginia, has seen the Hitler-mufti ad and finds it offensive and off point. “We don’t condone what was inflicted on the Jews by Hitler,” Irshaid said. “We condemn it as a crime against humanity. We denounce any crime against any human for their religion or ideology.”

Finally, Steven Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism took direct aim at Muslim groups in a full-page ad Wednesday (May 21) in The New York Times. Emerson’s group claims organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) “deny the truth behind the religious motivation of Islamic terrorists.”

Like Geller’s ads, the IPT ad is designed to circumvent the national media that, the ad said, enforce a “censorship agenda of Islamist groups.”

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, brushed off both Geller’s ads and the IPT campaigns as the ongoing “Islamophobia industry that seeks to blame Islam for any violence or terrorism anywhere in the world.” The goal of such ads, he said, is to “demonize Islam and marginalize American Muslims.”

Meanwhile, Hooper said, his group, which will mail anyone a copy of the Quran on request, has been quick to condemn outrages such as the Boko Haram kidnapping of schoolgirls in Nigeria and the death sentence issued in Sudan to a woman who converted to Christianity. Neither outrage, Hooper said, has anything to do with true Islam.

“These are acts by extremists who misuse Islam for their own violent ends.”

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